Australian Tax Office phone lines have been overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of callers as taxpayers rush to get the $1080 boost to their refunds this year contained in the Coalition's tax cut legislation.
The ATO has already had to block 50,000 calls in the first five days of the financial year amid a huge surge of "excited" interest in tax time, as it tries to implement a new system for claiming returns.
Senior officials planned for a 28 per cent increase in call volumes but have briefed that they have been overwhelmed by an unprecedented number of inquiries driven by the new tax breaks, and ATO bosses say there is no end in sight. Casuals have been drafted in to take calls and full-time ATO public servants enticed with offers of overtime as their bosses struggle to cope with the "perfect storm" of the government's tax cuts becoming law and the introduction of the "one-touch" payroll system for employers.
Some Tax Office bureaucrats have been diverted from processing returns to cope with the rush on the phones as a temporary measure, according to one workplace union, and the level of outside contractors available to take calls has been "maxed out".
The call-blocking is done to stop taxpayers being put on hold and incurring long wait times, which would in turn cause blowouts to the Tax Office's service delivery targets.
Under the one-touch system, taxpayers working for a business with more than 20 employees will no longer be supplied with a payment summary, also known as a group certificate, and must log on to the myGov website to get the vital document.
But many of the callers flooding the ATO's lines are struggling to navigate the myGov system or just do not know how the one-touch changes affect their tax affairs, Australian Service Union's Jeff Lapidos said.
Mr Lapidos said most callers were good-natured and the ATO had not seen any surge in complaints about its service, but he pleaded for patience from taxpayers.
"We ask callers to the ATO to be patient and if possible to delay calling until ATO systems get a chance to catch up," Mr Lapidos said. "ATO staff are doing all they can to help.
"The ASU is disappointed the ATO and the government haven't yet advised everyone of these delays."
A Tax Office spokesperson said it had seen "a large number of people getting excited about tax time".
"Our call centre is managing a large number of calls," the spokesperson said. "We are reallocating people to manage a greater than anticipated number of calls.
The spokesperson encouraged taxpayers to wait several weeks before lodging their returns to make the lodging process easier.
In what could be the most eagerly anticipated tax-time in its history, the Tax Office had received more than 20,000 phone calls from those wanting help filing and linking up their myGov accounts in just the first few hours of Monday morning.
The roll-out of single-touch payroll systems means about 9 million Australians will no longer get an end-of-year income statement, or group certificate, sent directly to them. This information will instead be uploaded online and via an individual's myGov account.
- SMH/The Age